“Body and Soul” is “an all-time classic torch song” SF and “the most recorded jazz standard.” WK The song was originally written for actress and singer Gertrude Lawrence to sing for the British Broadcasting Company. MM Then Libby Holman introduced it in the United States through the 1930 Broadway revue Three’s a Crowd. Paul Whiteman, with vocal by Jack Fulton, hit #1 with his version that year. It became one of the top five recorded songs from 1890-1954 with fourteen charted versions during that time, including takes by Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Ozzie Nelson, Leo Reisman, and Art Tatum. PM John Coltrane, Ella Fitzerald, Billie Holiday, Etta James, Charles Mingus, Frank Sinatra, and Sarah Vaughan are among the others to tackle the song. WK
However, in an unusual twist, the highest-ranked version of the song is neither the first nor the highest-charting version. Coleman Hawkins, who has been called “the father of the tenor saxophone” NPR’09 for his role in establishing the tenor sax as a jazz instrument, NPR revived the song as an instrumental in 1939, showing how “it was possible to modernize well-worn Tin Pan Alley standards.” NPR It “became one of the most important jazz recordings of all time” JA as one of the genre’s “most influential performances” NPR’09 and one of its best-known performances in history. NRR
His recording was unique because it only hinted at the song’s melody in his recording, focusing instead on two choruses of improvisation. WK When “Body and Soul” came out, people continuously told him he was playing the wrong notes. NPR He had been playing in Europe and upon returning to the United States, Hawkins was surprised jazz artists hadn’t changed styles. NPR Swing bands still ruled at the time, but “the early tremors of bebop” were in the air. NPR
He “replaced blues-based riffing with brisk arpeggios, sharp-cornered phrases and endless lines that were the jazz equivalent of run-on sentences. He danced at the upper extremes of chords, foreshadowing the altered harmonies that later were so important to bebop.” NPR Hawkins made the song “a standard for tenor sax players, with many later recordings referencing parts of Hawkins’ solo and playing in the challenging key of D flat.” NRR
The song has shown stamina. In 2011, Tony Bennett charted with a duet with the late Amy Winehouse. It won the Grammy for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.
Tony Bennett with Amy Winehouse
JA David A. Jasen. (2002). A Century of American Popular Music: 2000 Best-Loved and Remembered Songs (1899-1999). Routledge: Taylor & Francis, Inc. Page 26.
MM Max Morath (2002). The NPR Curious Listener’s Guide to Popular Standards. New York, NY; Penguin Putnam Inc. Page 153.